Arnon Grunberg



On the life we don’t want – Adam Phillips in LRB:

“Psychoanalysts, to their credit, have been more than willing to tell us what the good is that we should seek; though not quite so willing to open up their proposed goods for discussion, or indeed to suggest that their proposed goods might be experiments in living and not absolute values. For Freud, the goal is recovering the capacity to love and work, or, rather more grimly, to turn hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. For Lacan it is ‘not giving ground relative to one’s desire’; for Klein it is reaching the Depressive Position; for Winnicott it is about enabling the patient to play and to surprise themselves; for Ferenczi the patient is not cured through free association, but cured when he can free associate, and so on and on and on. All the interesting psychoanalytic theorists are telling us what, in their view, constitutes a good life. Old-fashioned psychoanalysis always had a known destination.”


“(According to Michel Serres, the only modern question is: what is it you don’t want to know about yourself?) Psychoanalysis wants us to ask – against the grain of traditional philosophy – why do we obscure the good that we seek?”


“This is and is not an account of psychoanalytic treatment: when Freud says that an interpretation in analysis can be inaccurate but sufficient, he may be intimating something similar to Rorty, that the past is there to be usefully but not necessarily accurately reconstructed. But Freud does not describe the past as a tool we can use. It is the potential our pasts have to make, or inform, or determine a future – and, indeed, to sabotage a future – that is of significance (Freud uses the past as a kind of prediction). It’s only worth having a past if you’ve got a future. Both Freud and Rorty want the past – the personal and the cultural past – to be our best resource for making a future; it is the past as potential kidnapper of the present and the future that alarms them, and sets them to work. And in their secular and post-religious world – and in the light of two catastrophic world wars – it is only what Freud calls our instincts and Rorty calls our purposes that are going to make our lives worth living.”


“ (we could say that psychoanalysis begins where education breaks down).”


“Gray is warning us away from idealising our all too conscious projects for ourselves and others. It is clearly as misleading to idealise consciousness as to idealise the unconscious.”

“And not only are we unconscious of what we want and plagued by wishfulness, but that there is a powerful force inside us, which Freud would eventually call the Death Instinct, that both wants us not to want, and that wants us to harm ourselves and others; that wants the life we don’t want.”


“But Rorty and Freud both believe that it is only through conversation that we have a chance of getting the life we want, however wrong we may be, or turn out to be, about what we think we want; and indeed psychoanalysis is a conversation in which someone might be able to find out, or at least explore and experiment with what they might want.”


“Choosing a life, and knowing who we are and what to do, is something you can only do in language.”


“Psychoanalysis with pragmatism, and pragmatism with psychoanalysis, however, seem unusually promising for helping you get the life you want. Unless, of course, there is something you want more than the life you want.”

Read the article here.

Self-confident determinism is just the Death Instinct in disguise.
Unlimited optimism – become the person you want to be – has become just corporate jargon. Dream big, become a finance manager. Dream bigger, open an account.

But indeed, it’s all language. Choosing the life you want, not choosing the life you want, postponing the choice.
Realizing that there is something more than the life you want. Death for example.

And it’s not the original sin, stupid, it’s the original frustration.

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